Background – Last summer I made up my mind that I wanted to do the Colorado Trail Race on my singlespeed. Not having done any bikepacking or ultra racing, I was going to try to put together a 300 mile adventure east of El Paso through the Cornuda’s and the Guadalupe National Forest. I purchased a sewing machine and spent a lot of time making bags for my bike and buying a new GPS and Spot tracker. Time flew by and the Guadalupe trip never happened. I also needed a sleeping bag, pad, and puff jacket. More time whipped by and next thing I know it was mid-Spring and I needed to make a decision quick. I thought I’d try an individual time trial (ITT) on the AZT 300 course but figured I’d learn nothing doing it by myself. So I got permission for some vacation days and found myself able to line up with the big crew on April 13….a Friday!
I had just finished up some new bags for my Racer-X and had done a total of about 6 nights in the back country of the Franklins. I probably only put in about 300 miles of trail between Christmas and race day. My only other mileage would be from my short commute to school which I included a 40 to 50 pound bike with load. Needless to say I was a bit concerned about my fitness when the 13th rolled around. I was also having some really bad saddle sore issues as well but saw a doc the Monday before the race and finally got some meds that cleared things right up.
Our trip to Parker Lake, AZ would be our first trip in the Caribou. We battled a viscous head wind to AZ and arrived at the trail head well before dark. The weather was really nice and others were looking forward to cooler temps but concerned about a BIG storm rolling in Saturday.
My final packing list was much heavier than I wanted it to be, but I soon figured out that I was just being a safe old man…aka pussy. My main frame bag carried four 3 hour AyUp batteries, 2 CO2 containers, 2 MRE entrees with heaters, a pop tart, 2 packs of squeeze cheese, a spare pair of socks, a spare pair of shorts, PI leg warmers, a wool tee, fleece gloves, derailleur cable, and half of a camelbak bladder. In the gas tank I had chapstick, 8 clif bars, 4 mojo bars, 2 Z bars, and a few rolls of my mom’s fruit leather. On the bars I had all of my hygiene products, my GoPro camera, two 6 hour AyUp batts, and Smith hard case with glasses and lenses. I also had a set of laminated cue cards on the outside pocket. In the stuff sack I had my MontBell 30 degree sleeping bag, Thermarest NeoProXL pad, Tyvek bivy, and my MontBell UL down jacket. In the seat bag I carried 2 Stans’d tubes wrapped in tyvek, 2 bottles of Stan’s, Park Tool, Leatherman, small bottle of Progold Extreme, cotton rag, and a patch kit box containing spare chain links, brake pads, plug tool with plugs and rubber bands, a cleat bolt, needle and a full prewound bobbin of thread as well as patches and glue. On my back I carried a Camelbak blowfish with a full 100 oz bladder, PI rain jacket (XXL), Pur Hiker Pro water filter with some tablets, full size shock pump, Crank bro’s tire pump, cash and cards, Spot II, 2 spare AAA batts, 2 AA batts, and about a pound and a half of my mom’s fruit leather. I also had a full bottle under the frame. On me I wore a full zip jersey, SOS mid weight wool socks, Nema gloves, Rooly mirrored lens glasses, old Bell helmet with AyUp lights, Descent shorts, Spot wool arm warmers, and Shimano M087 shoes. My bike is a custom ti Titus 29er with a brand new drive train, 180 cranks, 3×9 sram rear setup with OLD Sram half pipe shifters, Magura Marta SL brakes, Stan’s 355 rims, DT 340 rear hub, WTB Laserdisc Lite front hub, 120tpi WTB Exiwolf 2.3 rear tire, and 2.55 WeirWolf LT 60tpi front tire. The frame is 4 years old and the oldest parts are 5 years old. I sat on a mid level WTB Silverado saddle and held on to a set of 4 year old Ergon grips with bar ends.
My GPS was a Garmin Etrex 20 with sweet topo maps from a free source via Scott Morris’ Topofusion forum and the official AZT gps track. I also put on about 30 waypoints indicating water sources and bailout points. On top of the headtube I used a Stem Captain thermometer.
The week before the start I spent some time making sure the bike was good to go.
DAY 1 – Since cooler weather was in store for the start, I decided I’d roll out at 9 with everyone else. I spent some time with Connor and did a surprisingly small amount of socializing. I was not one bit nervous but only concerned with the fact that I was carrying a lot of crap. I knew I wouldn’t need all the food I brought, but just felt more comfortable with it.
After the shuttle rolled up, I decided I’d better start getting stuff together and slabbed on the sunscreen. The crowd built and Scott Morris briefed us and sent us on our way.
I let all the fast guys go and started to head down the trail but realized I had not turned on my gps. Scott laughed at me as I mentioned something about hoping I could figure that thing out by the time I finished. Pretty much everyone with an Etrex 20 had some sort of complaint.
I rode a comfortable pace and passed lots of slower riders and riders already dealing with flats. After about the first 30 minutes I rolled up on Kurt Refsnider (ultra bike racing god) and Max Morris on a hike-a-bike. Aaron Gulley who had flatted caught me and we soon found the four of us riding pretty fast together. I stayed with them all the way to Patagonia where we rolled into town about 4 hours after the start. Their pace wasn’t exceptionally fast, but too fast for me to be doing with a 52 pound rig. I stopped at the Velvet Elvis for a pizza and ordered a Sassy…which had way too much sausage and cheese. I ate two pieces and wrapped the other two for the road. Stopping in the general store I picked up some snacks while I heard another rider (Pete?) asking for sunscreen.
Rolling up the road to Sonoita I had a great tailwind, but my gut was a rock and my legs kind of stiff from the hard 30 miles and the half hour sit down for lunch. I kept cruising and after turning into the headwind, Aaron G. came by me again after getting his tire patched at an auto shop. Kurt S. came around me as well and I soon found myself quite alone in the wind heading to Kentucky Camp. I took a good break at KC to eat a snack and fill up with water. I headed out with the goal of La Sevilla picnic area for the night. At about 9 pm or so, I passed Brad M. (started at 6 am) who had a dead light battery. He was walking and was not using his backup light. At 10, I was absolutely exhausted. My legs felt great, but I had no sleep the night before due to Connor being a bit excited about his first night in the truck camper. The first flat spot I found (about mile 80) I rolled out my bivy and was sacked out in less than 15 minutes. I was really close to the trail and did not put in my earplugs. Many riders passed me and shined their lights on me as I tried to ignore them. After most of them passed me, I slept quite well….about 6 hours….until the wind started to scare me a bit and the moon came out.
DAY 2 -I heard a lot of people complain about the wind that night, but my spot was pretty much immune to it. I heard it, but never got blasted. The storm was moving in quickly so I boogied on out of there with the goal of making it to La Sevilla for shelter. It was only misting, but quite cold and windy when I got there.
Some other riders were there but only Justin stuck around as he had minimal cold weather gear. I heated up an MRE and decided to crash in the covered picnic area. I was joined by Fred W. and Eric Lord. Others came and went, but I figured I’d better stay out of the rain and sleep some more. It rained and blew hard so I ended up with a 4 hour break. When I got up to get going again, I had a bunch of water from my camelbak in my bivy. Luckily it only got my pad wet and not my bag. I packed up and took off down the trail after Justin. We went off course about a mile, but quickly got back on and rolled out X9 to the pave. I had to stop to put on my jacket when a session of sleet hit me, but soon after I stopped at the Rincon gas station where I scored the last bean burrito and a Mexican Coke. I then continued on to the Safeway for some more hot food. I chilled in the Quiznos eating a bowl of chicken soup. At Safeway I picked up a loaf of whole wheat bread, an apple, some organic poptarts, a pack of tuna, and a small container of chocolate almond milk.
I connected with Dave Goldberg headed up to Reddington where I just chilled with him on our way to the top of La Milagrosa where I knew there would be a good camp spot and water not too far away. On one of the descents I felt something hit my leg and backtracked to find my Park multi-tool. Turns out my seat bag was WIDE effing open and gone was my patch kit box. I’ve had that box for about 15 years. Very bummed and a bit nervous after that since so many parts were in it.
A short distance from La Milagrosa we could smell a campfire. I was hoping to roll up on a few U of A coeds but it ended up being Brad M. who had made a glorious fire. I rolled up the road to find water and luckily there was a large puddle with crystal clear water in it about 200 yards from camp. I had to prime my filter but I soon had one and a half bladders full for the trip up Lemmon. Back at camp I pulled my stuff out to dry while I ate the bread, tuna, and apple. I sacked out with earplugs but was awoken by Fred W’s coughing. Poor guy ended up dropping out at Oracle. He was riding very steady, but not sleeping much. I got 7 hours that night and when I got up the next morning, decided I’d better get moving if I wanted to finish this thing in a respectable manner.
DAY 3 – After the hike-a-bike up to Molino, I took a pit stop at the Molino outhouse. I soon caught Fred on the trail, and rode alone up Lemmon to the restaurant where I sat with Aaron Boatman and ordered a breakfast burrito. On the way in to the restaurant I saw Les headed up to Oracle Ridge. After horrible service at the restaurant, I went to the general store for a complimentary cup of hot cocoa, a soda, and some snacks. I ended up riding with Aaron all the way down to the Kannally Ranch house. The trails were totally ripper on the way down despite a bit of snow we had to trudge through. Our bikes got a bit muddy, but nothing I was worried about. We passed Jill H. near the top and just said hello and kept moving. At Kannally, Aaron wanted to hang out a bit, but I wanted real food and left him for Oracle. I picked up two sandwiches, a Muscle Milk, and a small can of Pringels, exchanged pleasantries with Eric Foster, and rolled out.
After eating one of the sandwiches on the road, I felt great and decided to get to work. I was flying through some great singletrack with the goal of hitting the Freeman Water Cache at a decent hour. Just before it started getting dark, I took a header on a switchback and landed directly on my lights. I removed my helmet and immediately plugged in a battery to make sure they still worked. YES! I quickly got back up and got rolling again. The trails were incredible out there. Lots of blooms and it smelled great. The sun soon set and I was frequently checking my GPS as the route was becoming less used and more convoluted. I started seeing some lights and gave chase. I came up on Brad K. and Matt who were chilling in a wash. I talked to them for a few minutes. It’s always cool to meet guys from back east who are tough riders. I grew up riding back east in the Appalachians and always loved riding in the slop and roots. It’s fun to share with guys who can relate.
Soon after leaving them I passed Les. Sometime in there I rolled passed a big tank with the old windmill fan flat on the ground. There was a noisy owl there that was cracking me up. He calmed down after I passed, but then I heard him again and looked back to see a bunch of lights in the area. The singletrack seemed never ending and I was starting to get sleepy. My legs felt great, but I crashed again in a wash and was looking forward to getting some rest. I soon rolled up on Forrest who was just kind of standing around the junction with Freeman Rd. I knew that the cache was not on the road, so I rolled on and soon found Steve and Pete bivied right next to the trail by the cache. I found a spot a ways off the trail and threw my crap down. I filled my camelbak, ate my other sandwich and the pringles, and drank half the muscle milk. I crashed out hard until about 4 am.
Day 4 – The moon still was not out when I first woke up so I went back to sleep for a few more minutes. When the moon came out I finished the muscle milk, ate some cookies, and got dressed to ride. My helmet straps were almost completely chewed through by a rat and I think the rat threw dust down my snoring throat as I had a bitch of a cough. Little bastards also got a hold of my camelbak which I was using as my pillow. Nothing like having vermin hanging out around your head while you sleep.
I was out of the cache by 5 am. As soon as the sun came out, I put on my clean but still wet chamois and put my dirty chamois on top. Two layers was super comfy and after sunscreen, some more snacks, and changing glasses, I was rolling again on the powerline towards Ripsey. I cleaned about half of the Ripsey switchbacks and was soon flying down the ridge. I got slightly off course but was soon back in the wash and rolled up on an unopened bottle of 7UP! Yay! I cracked it open and drank about half of it saving the rest for Kelvin. I finally rolled into Kelvin just in time for an early lunch.
At the maintenance shed I topped off my camelbak and filled my water bottle. I heated up my last MRE and chit chatted with Bill from Del Rio. He was thru-hiking the entire trail. He was loading his pack with 10L of water. That’s 22 lbs for those of you who don’t know your conversions. The MRE treated my stomach well and I was rolling on the machine cut singletrack down the Gila.
Wow! I thought it would never end. It went on and on and on and on. Miles and miles of Sweco dozer action in terrain that would make the average dozer driver breakdown like a crying little bitch. The heat cranked up to around 90 and I was a bit worried about my water supply. I was soon down to the half bladder I’d been carrying in my frame pack for a couple of days. I passed Pawel with his 1×5 gearing. He’d stopped to snap a pic and I quickly caught him. It still took a long time to get to the finish as there seemed to be 9 or 10 inner canyons. I seriously thought it would never end. Eventually I passed a pair of horseback riders so I knew I couldn’t be far. Then I started seeing foot prints so I started pinning it again and drinking my water since most people don’t walk very far from the trailhead. Sure enough I soon saw the Caribou and other vehicles. I felt a bit dry, but my legs felt great. My hands were pretty cooked and I rode the last 10 miles or so without gloves as they were so crusty they were irritating my hands.
I finished in 3 days, 7 hours, and 50 minutes. Pretty good for a total of 22 hours of sleep during that time. No flats! No bonking. No major injuries. Only 2 encounters with cactus and only one close call with evil gnawing mammals.
My beautiful wife and son spent their weekend learning all about our truck camper. With minimal guidance she dumped the holding tanks, changed a propane tank, and had to deal with some tire issues…..that’s a whole different story. I must thank her for supporting me in this endeavor and spending our 12th anniversary (Sunday) watching my blue dot on Trackleaders. I spent many a late night on the sewing machine and several nights away from home testing out my gear….though I’m sure she slept sideways on our king size bed when I wasn’t there. Connor was a good boy the entire time I was gone thanks to some solid entertainment from Paula and Beto’s chickens and their new pup Parker. I also need to thank Scott Morris for all his help with my totally non-intuitive Garmin. He helped me find some really sweet maps and understand how to load the track.
My apologies to those who were hoping for some trail pics. I bet I spent a total of about 45 minutes stopping to take photos with my GoPro. The little bugger kept acting up and none of the picture I took were saved. I saw so much gorgeous green desert and I can only keep those in my memories.